July 06, 2017

Playground Planning 101: Location, Location, Location!

Play Marks the Spot

This is the second in a six-post series. Read part one

Now that you have decided on what kind of playground you need and have a better idea of your budget, it’s time to figure out just where your playground should go. If you’re thinking, “well that’s the easy part, I’ve had the site picked out for years!” then don’t think you can skip right over this post. There are plenty of other things to consider (like creating the right topography and planning around utilities, did you think of that?) and we will walk you through them all.

Here are nine areas of planning that you should consider when choosing your playground location.

  • Deciding on your playground site
  • Creating the right topography for your play space
  • Evaluating the land and soil
  • Creating the strongest community connection
  • Beautifying your area with tree and planting pockets
  • Considering the climate
  • Careful planning of utilities
  • Planning for accessibility and inclusion
  • Being thoughtful about liability

Let's go into more detail on each of these areas:

1. Where is the best place to build a playground? - Deciding on your playground site

Maybe you already own land to build on or you’ll be donating a playground to the community that will be built on land that belongs to someone else. If you’ll be working with someone else’s land then the first step is to meet with the owner. Since they own the land, you’ll need their sign off for each step. Their permission is required for things like:

  • volunteer worker release forms
  • any schedules involving the play site
  • any major construction decisions


If you don’t have a site in mind, it’s a great idea to ask others in the community for their input on where they would like to see the playground built. You can start by contacting places like:

  • community parks
  • park and recreation departments
  • schools
  • recreational facilities
  • other organizations that offer play and recreation opportunities for children

Sharing experiences and insight with those who already focus on creating safe and fun play environments will be a great benefit to helping you plan your play space. Admit it, you can’t think of every single thing on your own but with the help of more people, you can ensure that potential issues are not overlooked and that local priorities are brought up. It’s always great to have more people on your team to show the community this is a united effort for the good of all. More about this in step four...

Can I renovate an older playground?

Of course! Renovating an old playground is a great idea, especially if it’s a beloved neighborhood play place. Refresher from our previous blog post - if you choose to renovate an existing playground instead of installing a new site, be sure to have it evaluated for current safety standards. GameTime can help direct you to a qualified person to perform a safety inspection.  

2. How do I create a fun and natural playground environment? - Creating the right topography for your play space

Topography is the arrangement of the natural and artificial physical features of an area. To create the best play environment for kids, it’s smart to provide a mix.

For example, utilizing berms (the level space, shelf, or raised barrier separating two areas) with ramped play spaces is a great way to achieve higher deck heights, instead of ramping from level ground. The level grade of the land is one of the most critical elements to consider. Imagine trying to build on uneven land! Choosing a site that doesn’t need major grading will help you save time and money.

There are always exceptions to rules though, right? And there is one exception to the "level ground rule." You can look into planning ramped structures where the topography and strategically located berms can help reach higher deck levels with less expense.

3. What’s the best land to build on? - Evaluating the land and soil

When you start examining potential sites there are several land issues you need to be aware of before building. Things that will affect your project are:

  • Type of soil
  • Groundwater and seepage
  • Drainage of the land

Have no fear! There are experts out there who can help with all this. Your local GameTime representative knows about all this stuff and is familiar with a variety of conditions from their installation experience in the area, and can advise of any special treatment the ground may need. A landscape architect is also a great resource to provide guidance on soil-related issues and drainage. If a soil testing facility is not readily available, you can contact the local Master Gardener or the Department of Agriculture for assistance with your play space.

4. How do I boost community involvement? - Creating the strongest community connection

Creating a playground for the children of the community to enjoy is best if you pick a location that can serve the most kids. A good rule of thumb is to select a site that is within walking distance to the greatest number of families. Choose a site that is close to:

  • Highly populated neighborhoods
  • Schools
  • Entertainment facilities
  • Libraries
  • Trails and outdoor hotspots

This can also help in your fundraising efforts. Families who will benefit from the play space are more likely to generate support for it.

5. What trees and plants are best for playgrounds? - Beautifying your area with trees and planting pockets

One of the greatest things about playgrounds is that they’re an extra fun way for families to enjoy the great outdoors. Adding trees, shrubs, or flowers can enhance the play area by providing shade and creating a more beautiful environment. Family friendly plants also provide opportunities for wildlife enhancement by attracting birds and butterflies. Everyone loves a butterfly bush!  

Another option for creating an enjoyable mix of nature within your play space is by adding planting pockets. These can be installed as individual trees or plant groupings that are outside the equipment use zones within your playground area.

*Bonus Building Tip: The plant database at www.naturegrounds.org is the perfect resource for discovering zone specific plants that offer great play value!

6. What other things should affect picking a location? - Considering the climate

It’s a given that most people don’t want to spend a lot of time in direct sunlight. The best playground layouts feature shady spots, overlooks, and rain coverings so that the elements don’t take control over your site. Researching the climate conditions where your playground will go should be considered when deciding on the placement of your play space. And guess what? There are people who will be able to help you identify the best placement for your playground. Just ask your local GameTime representative! Be thoughtful about placement of site amenities, so that shade structures are positioned to best screen the sun, and benches and tables are comfortable for the people who will be using them. Including tables designed for mobility device access will help ensure that people of all abilities can utilize this great opportunity to gather and socialize!

7. Careful planning of utilities

It’s easy to plan for overhead power, cable, and other utility lines that you can see, but there are also utilities buried under the ground that must also be evaluated. The good news is, most cities offer complimentary services to help identify the location of buried utilities, which need to be avoided when finding a site for your play space. To ensure all potential utilities are located and marked, it’s a good idea to contact companies that provide services in:

  • Power
  • Gas
  • Cable
  • Phone
  • Water
  • Sewer

Bonus Building Tip: Before you get to work, ask local utility companies to mark the locations of any underground utilities at the site to avoid running into potential conflicts later.

8. How do I build a playground the entire family can enjoy? - Planning for accessibility and inclusion

Kids love playgrounds, but there are ways to make sure parents love visiting your play space just as much! Children need adult supervision when playing outdoors, so it’s smart to include benches and picnic tables for the comfort of the adults. Clear visibility from these areas should be planned for so that parents and caregivers can supervise the play space easily and comfortably. Include shaded seating options at the playground so that visitors have a comfortable place to sit, observe, socialize, and rest.

Also be aware the Department of Justice requires public playgrounds to meet the accessibility guidelines in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). GameTime offers a free ADA Playground Checklist you can download and use in your planning. When selecting a site and laying out your play area, be thoughtful about:

  • Parking
  • Accessibility
  • Water fountains
  • Pedestrian and bicycle paths
  • Shade
  • Trash disposal and recycling options
  • Restrooms

Bonus Building Tip: It’s also a good idea to consider emergency telephones, fences with automatic gates and other security provisions.

9. How do I plan for liability when building a play site? - Being thoughtful about liability

When you first start thinking about a playground or recreation facility, one of the most important things to consider is the question of liability. From utilizing waivers for volunteers involved in a community build, to ensuring that ownership of the playground and any other equipment is passed to the site owner, and everything in between should be considered.

Here are some very important guidelines for making sure you’re being smart about liability. When starting your project make sure:

  • All companies that have a hand in designing or building the playground provide references and information about their liability insurance and training of their representatives
  • All volunteers sign waivers
  • Your site gets regularly inspected and a maintenance schedule is decided upon

* Bonus Building Tip: You can find even more in-depth information by requesting our free Playground Maintenance Guide or Playground Supervision Guide.

That was a lot of information, but there are always a lot of ideas to consider when still in the planning stages of your play space. It can be overwhelming, but keep in mind that members of your community can be powerful assets in moving the project forward. Be sure to tap into their individual strengths and enlist their help!

Look for Steps 3-6 of Playground Planning 101 in future blog posts. Can't wait that long? Request a copy of Blueprint for Play and get all the details now! Or contact us and let us plan your playground for you.